-
Wednesday, February 2, 2022

OPINION:

The new name of the Washington Football Team – the “Commanders” – made the kind of impact in its reveal Wednesday morning that Washington football fans are used to.

Empty. Disappointing. Apathetic. Sort of like a Washington Football Team game.


The big reveal at Ghost Town Field hardly measured up to all the years of frustration and criticism about the Redskins. You would have thought the actual ceremonial name change for a franchise with this much history would have come with a bit more fanfare.

I guess the fan and the fare have been beaten out of this fanbase over the decades of dismal ownership by Dan Snyder, who, like Punxsutawney Phil, made an appearance Wednesday morning at Ghost Town Field for the unveiling ceremony.

Now we move on to the era of the Washington Commanders – new name, new uniforms and a new logo (which, of course, they fouled up by misidentifying their three Super Bowl championships with the wrong seasons).

So, I would imagine, then, that the franchise has no more use for its old Redskins Indian head helmet logo. And, since that’s the case, Donald Wetzel is asking the team to give that trademarked symbol — a striking and dignified design that his Indian father helped create — back to the people it was intended to honor.

The logo, which debuted in 1972, was inspired by Walter “BlackieWetzel, the former president of the National Congress of American Indians, who showed team officials an image of Chief Two Guns White Calf, the last chief of the Pikuni Blackfoot Indians who passed away in 1934 and whose image Blackie Wetzel believed should be part of the team’s newly designed symbol.

While the Redskins name became a source of controversy, Wetzel said he believes the Indian head logo is different. The logo represents pride for Native Americans. “We want to repurpose the logo,” he said, for use by advocacy groups working to solve “issues that are destroying the Indian nation.”

“The name and the logo are two different things,” said Marie Schell, Wetzel’s partner.

So far, they say they are being stonewalled by owner Dan Snyder.

“We were here in November and met with the team’s director of public relations,” Wetzel said. “He showed up with a lawyer. They didn’t seem to know about the history. It was very disheartening. They said they were new and wanted to know more about Blackie’s contribution (Walter “Blackie Wetzel passed away in 2003). We never heard anything back from them. We asked them for the logo. I don’t know what (Snyder) has planned for the logo. It was officially retired on June 18, 2021.

“I had tried to set up meetings in advance with Dan Snyder and (team president) Jason Wright, “Wetzel said. “We never heard back from them. The meetings never happened.

They said they asked the football team for exclusive use of the logo and legal assurances that they would not face any legal action. “They said the NFL would take care of any issues with that,” Wetzel said. Neither the team nor the NFL responded to requests for comment for this column.

Wetzel said they have met with Montana Sen. Steve Daines, a Republican who they said supports their efforts. The senator’s office also did not comment one way or the other.

They also said they met with two NFL officials — Brendan Plack, senior vice president of public policy and government affairs with the NFL and Kenneth Edmonds, vice president of public policy and government affairs — who told them they would look into the standing of the trademark.

“We asked the NFL if they knew anything about Walter “Blackie” Wetzel and his ties to the logo,” Wetzel said. “They didn’t know anything.”

Then they showed the two NFL officials the 2016 video the team played at Ghost Town Field:

“In 1971, Walter “Blackie” Wetzel, the Blackfeet Tribal chairman and former president of the National Congress of American Indians, met with the Washington Redskins to urge the team to change the “R” logo on the helmet. With blessings from tribal leaders, Walter “Blackie” Wetzel brought photos from the Blackfeet Nation, located in northwest Montana, and the image of Chief Two Guns White Calf was most admired, and the enduring Redskins logo was born, a logo based on a real person out of respect for the Native American community … Walter “Blackie” Wetzel and the Blackfeet Nation will forever be part of the Redskins family.”

As we know, forever lasted four years, until pressure from sponsors forced Snyder to change the name to its caretaker logo, the Washington Football Team, until the new Commanders name was announced Wednesday. The Chief Two Guns White Calf logo disappeared with the Redskins name as well.

“They made a big deal of Blackie creating the logo but were brought back as pawns in the Redskins name controversy,” Wetzel said.

In 2014, Snyder started the “Washington Redskins Original Americans Foundation” as a commitment to Native American communities. Snyder wrote in a letter that the mission was to provide “meaningful and measurable resources that provide genuine opportunities for tribal communities.”

Si.com reported in 2020 that “tribal officials and public records tell a less-flattering version of the story: that Snyder formed WROAF in response to criticism over his team’s racist name; that at least some of the funding was directed toward high schools that used “Redskins” as their mascot name; and that he cut back his support when public scrutiny waned following the resolution of a lawsuit over the team’s trademark.”

Wetzel and Schell hope that Snyder can actually do one last thing to help his people. “We can make up for what Dan Snyder has failed to do,” she said.

You can hear Thom Loverro on The Kevin Sheehan Show podcast.

• Thom Loverro can be reached at tloverro@washingtontimes.com.


Copyright © 2022 The Washington Times, LLC.